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Welcome, Blessings, History, and Justice

Fr Rich AndreRich Andre, CSP
December 23, 2022

Welcome! Whether this is your first time or your four-thousandth time worshipping at the Paulist Center, we are glad that you are with us! With less activities happening over these next two weeks, we have some extra space in the bulletin. I’m taking this opportunity to share a longer-than-usual pastoral reflection with both members and visitors. I offer the Paulist Center Community’s Christmas blessings to all, a brief history of the Center for those who are visiting, and some thoughts on our obligations to our Jewish friends who have been celebrating Hanukkah while simultaneously enduring threats on many fronts. I’ll conclude with a quotation from spiritual writer Jan Richardson that we used in our Advent-Christmas Concert two weeks ago.


Christmas Blessings!

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light….
For a child has been born for us,… upon his shoulders authority rests.
They name him Wonder-Counselor,… Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:2, 6)

On behalf of the entire Paulist Center staff and worshipping community, we wish you a blessed and holy Christmas season. In these cold and dark days, Christmas promises us warmth and light. God lives among us. God understands our challenges. Christmas demonstrates that even when things are not perfect – such as there being no room for a pregnant mother at an inn – God can find a way. As we transition to a new year, we recall these words of Pope Francis: “Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved” (Evangelii Gaudium, #6).


A Brief History of the Paulist Center

The Paulist Center is a truly special place. This is a community where all are welcome at Mass, not only devout Catholics committed to the work of justice, but also those who are unfamiliar with the Church’s teachings and those who question some of the teachings. We journey together as we each wrestle with our questions and search for answers!

In his 1855 book, Questions of a Soul, Servant of God Isaac Thomas Hecker wrote:

If Christ is to be for us a savior,
we must find him here, now, and where we are, in this age of ours also;
Otherwise, he is no Christ, no Savior, no Emmanuel, no ‘God with us.’

Hecker (1819-1888) grew up as a spiritual seeker. He felt called by God from a young age to do something extraordinary with his life, but he struggled to understand to what exactly God called him. Hecker worked in his brothers’ baking and flour-milling business for a while, dabbled in New York politics, and lived briefly at two Transcendentalist communes in the Boston area as he studied the world’s religions. When he discerned the call to become Catholic, he wasted no time. He was soon baptized and later ordained, becoming one of the best-known Catholic writers in the country. He and four companions formed the Paulist Fathers, the first religious community of priests founded in the United States.

The Paulist Center is one of the experimental ways that the Paulists have made the faith relevant “here, now, and where we are, in this age of ours.” In the 1950s and 60s, people flocked here on their lunch breaks to learn about the Catholic faith, and then were baptized here and joined our worshipping community. The Paulist Center continues to be a place of innovative evangelization. It was among the first places to minister to certain marginalized groups, including divorced and separated people, women yearning for larger leadership roles within the Church, and LGBTQ+ persons. Our community is filled with passionate people dedicated to issues of charity and justice. For over 50 years, our Wednesday Night Supper Club has provided dignified, sit-down, community-building meals for our neighbors in need. Project Bread, one of the largest non-profit fundraisers in Boston, was originally founded by our members to support the Supper Club. At any given time, at least a half-dozen justice and advocacy groups work to bring forth the kingdom of God here and now.


Justice For Our Jewish Neighbors

As we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, and as Hanukkah reaches its conclusion, we continue our history of working for justice. Sadly, there has been an alarming increase in threats against Jewish individuals, Jewish beliefs, and Jewish institutions, so we feel compelled to reiterate the Church’s strong opposition to anti-Semitism. Paulist Father Tom Stransky was the main author of Nostra Aetate, the most important document that the Church has ever issued on the relationship of the Church with other world religions. Overwhelming approved by the world’s bishops at the Second Vatican Council in 1964, Nostra Aetate affirms all that is good and holy in Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism. It reserves its strongest affirmations for our Jewish sisters and brothers:

In her rejection of every persecution against any [person], the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone. (#4)

During World War II, to the horror of most Christians, others had quoted biblical passages out of context and cited anti-Semitic writings of prominent Christians to justify the Holocaust. Nostra Aetate was written in part to address this egregious error.

As Christians, we have an obligation not only to condemn anti-Semitic words and actions in the 21st century, but also to undo nearly two millennia of harm that Christianity has inflicted on our Jewish brothers and sisters. I pledge that in 2023, the Paulist Center will address the passages in the Gospel of Matthew that have too often been twisted to promote anti-Semitism.

Bringing It All Together

Jan Richardson has written the following in response to the Isaiah passage quoted at the beginning of this reflection:

It’s important to note that the texts that originated with our Jewish forebears—the texts that Christians usually call the Old Testament—can stand on their own. These ancient words do not take on meaning for the people of Christ solely by our reading and interpreting them with our Christian eyes. What Isaiah offers here are powerful words for those in darkness in any time, in any place.

At the same time it is right that we in the Christian tradition find hope, solace, and meaning in these words as we celebrate and anticipate the coming of Christ. The vivid, brilliant imagery of Isaiah undergirds and resonates with and gives poetic expression to the images and stories that we receive from the New Testament texts in this season. Isaiah prepares us to hear the astonishing story of what has come in the person of Christ. This Hebrew prophet reminds us that the longing for light is an ancient human longing. He assures us that in the presence of the darkness of this world—be it friendly darkness or foul—God is present, working to help us know God more clearly and to live together with deeper compassion, justice, and peace.

Once again, Merry Christmas! We warmly welcome you to the Paulist Center. Together, we have seen a great light, assuring one another that we are infinitely loved by the God who comes to dwell among us.